Industrial camp unknowns prompt research report

Report provides details about how industrial camps could potentially impact health care services in northern B.C.

A report into the state of industrial camps in northern B.C. provides details about how droves of transient workers could potentially impact health care services here.

The report, released by Northern Health on Thursday, Oct. 17, offers a glimpse at life inside the camps and reveals how an influx of migrant workers could affect public health in rural and remote towns and villages across the region.

By referencing industrial, academic and medical research dating back 30 years, Northern Health has assembled an archive of case studies detailing the health-related implications that resource development has had on some communities in northern B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, as well as in rural Austrailia and the United States.

In the months leading up to the report, Northern Health officials met with numerous community leaders, including in Kitimat and Hudson’s Hope, who were fearful of how nearby industrial camps would affect local health care, said Dr. Charles Jago, chair of the Northern Health Board.

“We really don’t now what impacts those are having,” Dr. Jago said on Thursday, Oct. 18.

“This study is the first step in trying to understand that phenomenon more fully.”

Although communities largely benefit from resource development projects, experiencing job creation, high wages, economic development and a rise in property values, the impacts of boom-and-bust cycles on public health aren’t well understood.

Depression, substance abuse, mental problems and family issues have been linked to life in industrial camps and at remote work sites, where employees are sometimes stationed for 21 to 28 days, or as long as 42 days, away from their homes, working 12 to 18-hour shifts each day, according to research studies cited in the report.

Communicable disease was also identified as a topic of concern by Northern Health staff.

One case study cited in the report, which focused on sexually transmitted infections and young oil and gas workers in a community in northeast B.C., linked high and rising rates of STIs to a transient workforce and drug and alcohol binging.

“Often mentioned in all sources of information related to health and industrial camps is the theme of a worker’s state of mind and problematic substance use,” the report says.

Northern Health also indicated that a rapid influx of workers, combined with labour shortages and a lack of capacity in hospitals and clinics, could overwhelm a rural or remote community’s health care services, many of which already struggle to serve the indigenous population.

“The research presented here identifies many negative impacts of industrial camps, but little is said in terms of how to address these impacts in a positive way,” the report says.

Logistical gaps and the absence of a federal or provincial depository with information on the number of active camps in Northern Health’s service area are also noted in the report.

Using public data from the Land and Resource Data Warehouse, Northern Health worked with government ministries to map in detail the patchy world of industrial camps in northern B.C, some of which accommodate as many as 10,000 workers.

Northern Health identified approximately 1,567 oil and gas camps, 108 logging and forestry camps with special use permits, and 44 camps with drinking water licenses. Some 98 other major projects may also be operating industrial camps, according to the report.

“It was very hard to identify the number and locations of camps. That took an enormous research effort,” said Dr. Jago.

As resource development projects grow in number, Northern Health is using case studies from other countries as models to help shape the health needs of industrial camps in northern B.C., said Kathy Aldrich, chief executive officer and president of Northern Health.

“We do know that the workers in the industrial camps… have health needs,” she said.

Subsequent reports will investigate what types of health care services are currently being utilized by camp workers and what Northern Health can learn from other jurisdictions that have formed partnerships with resource-extraction companies, explained Aldrich.

This article has been edited to reflect the following correction on Dec. 7, 2012:

An article about a report by North Health into the state of industrial camps in northern B.C. misstated the number of years of research that was referenced. Industrial, academic and medical research dating back 30 years was referenced in the report.